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Leading the News

Puerto Rico Officials Defend Whitefish Energy Deal Before Congress.

The Hill Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (11/14, Henry) reports that before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee yesterday, “top Puerto Rico officials defended the territory’s response to Hurricane Maria.” Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority executive director Ricardo Ramos said “said their original decision to grant a large grid repair contract to a small Montana energy firm was the right one, given the promises the company made to the island.” Ramos said, “I authorized the Whitefish [Energy] contract while we continued to seek additional assistance from others for the complete, multibillion-dollar restoration effort still to come. … My priority was securing the immediate assistance of first responders that we desperately needed.” Senators “questioned why the island didn’t move faster to enter into the mutual aid agreements, which traditionally cost less than private-sector work.”

DOE: Full Power Restoration On Puerto Rico Still Months Away. E&E Publishing Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (11/14, Subscription Publication) reports the Energy Department’s “point man” on the island, “Assistant Secretary Bruce Walker, says full power restoration on the stricken island is still months away, with no clear end date because of delays in bringing mainland repair crews to the island.” According to Walker, “the recovery operation now is addressing top priorities, with close coordination among the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA), the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and DOE. But the time lost cannot be recovered.” He told E&E, “The entire pace of restoration is predicated on having the resources that actually can do the work.”

Higher Education

DeVos Touts Alternatives To Four-Year College.

The Wall Street Journal Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (11/14, Chaney, Subscription Publication) reports Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, speaking Tuesday at the Wall Street Journal’s CEO Council gathering, said that more emphasis should be placed on alternatives to traditional four-year degrees, such as community college, to steer more students into careers. The piece quotes DeVos saying, “Many students graduate high school and don’t know what they want to pursue. We have to give students a much wider venue of opportunities starting in high school and middle school to help guide them into a productive future.” DeVos also called for greater state autonomy in K-12 education policy.

U.S. News & World Report Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (11/14) reports that DeVos called “for a ‘major shift’ in higher education – one that prioritizes programs like apprenticeships over four-year college degrees.” This piece quotes DeVos saying, “For decades now, we have given the subtle, or not so subtle, message that the only path for a successful life is a four-year degree.” She said that “educators should be ‘honoring’ the various pathways to careers and that they should increase the importance and focus on workforce training programs like apprenticeships.” The article says DeVos urged corporate leaders “to engage the education community around them, including by building partnerships with community colleges and other local workforce training institutions.”

Labor Secretary Calls For Improvements To Apprenticeship System. Politico Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (11/14, Hesson) reports that at the first meeting of the Labor Department’s apprenticeship task force on Monday, Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta told the group “the registered apprenticeship model is failing, and they need to come up with something better.” Politico made clear that “Acosta is a huge apprenticeship supporter,” and “often speaks about the value of such experience during trips around the country,” but he is supporting “a Trump administration plan to allow businesses, unions and other groups to develop and monitor apprenticeships themselves.” During the meeting, “Acosta said ‘0.3 percent of the workforce’ use the registered apprentice program and lamented that it’s ‘not scaling.’” While the existing program will continue, Acosta explained, “the administration will simultaneously develop its own ‘parallel’ apprenticeship program that will be ‘industry recognized.” Politico writes attendees at the meeting “expressed frustration at the public attitude toward apprenticeships,” which are “seen as a low-class, non-viable option for building a career,” adding that “there’s a dire need to put apprenticeships in parents’ and educators’ lexicon when they talk about career opportunities with students.” The article notes that Education Secretary Betsy DeVos also attended the event.

Higher Education Lobbying Groups: Proposed Tax Legislation Is “Fundamentally Flawed.”

Reuters Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (11/14) reports the American Council on Education and “more than three dozen higher-education lobbying groups” wrote a letter to Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch and top-ranking Democrat Sen. Ron Wyden on Tuesday in which they labeled proposed tax legislation “fundamentally flawed.” The groups warned that “creating a new and unprecedented tax on endowments” would shift a large amount of money “away from providing scholarships to our students and supporting research and education” and to the federal government. The House “is expected to pass its tax overhaul bill as soon as Thursday,” and the Senate “is expected to approve its version of the legislation after” Nov. 23. The House version “sparked anger from colleges and universities,” not only because of the endowment levy, but also because it would wipe “out the deduction that graduates can take on their federal taxes for student-loan interest and eliminates other tax breaks intended to ease the burden of paying tuition.”

NPR Share to FacebookShare to Twitter’s (11/14) “NPR Ed” similarly says the House version “could have negative implications for universities, graduate students and those with student loans,” including graduate students, who would have to report tuition waivers granted in exchange for teaching or research as income subject to taxation. NPR says that provision would effectively require graduate students to pay taxes on money that they never receive. NPR notes Carnegie Mellon University, “known for programs in science and technology,” and Boston University are among “the many schools” speaking out against the tax legislation.

The Minneapolis Star Tribune Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (11/14) reports many of “Minnesota’s most prominent colleges and universities” are also “raising alarms about the tax overhaul that Republicans are pushing through Congress, saying it would make it harder to offer financial assistance to low-income students, fund research and pay for academic buildings.” The Star Tribune says a provision in the House plan that “would strike a tax deduction for student loan interest that could have an outsized impact on Minnesota,” which “ranks fifth in the nation for the size of residents’ student loan debt; 69 percent of Minnesotans with at least a bachelor’s degree have college debt, at a median level of $25,989.” The Senate version of the bill would preserve the deduction. Paul Cerkvenik, the president of the Minnesota Private College Council, which “represents 17 colleges that teach 40,000 undergraduate and 17,000 graduate students,” denounced the measures as “counter to what we want to try to do in higher education, which is to try and keep costs down.”

Federation of Independent Illinois Colleges and Universities president David W. Tretter, in a piece for the Chicago Sun-Times Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (11/14), writes that “Congress, through a tax reform bill that has just been unveiled, threatens to throw up additional roadblocks to the financial stability of private nonprofit colleges and universities and their ability to serve students.” The proposal to tax private college endowments is particularly ominous, Tretter says, because it would slash revenue and “decrease funding for needy students and increase the costs to offer programs.” He also cautions that eliminating “Employer-Provided Education Assistance, which provides much-needed assistance to working students by incentivizing employers to provide tuition assistance benefits,” may “significantly raise the cost of capital projects, at a time when the need for infrastructure improvements and safety upgrades (many mandated by government) are greatly needed.” Tretter stresses that the “top goal of tax reform should be to support college students and the institutions they attend, not hurt them,” and urges Congress to “seek ways to encourage the American dream, not shatter it.”

Commentary: Proposed Tax Reform Would “Devastate” Colleges Serving Most Vulnerable Regions. Bloomberg View Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (11/14) columnist Noah Smith says that last year, economist Lyman Stone of the Agriculture Department “wrote one of the most important blog posts in recent history,” but the post “was promptly overlooked by almost everyone.” Stone’s “deep dive into the economics of the small town of Pikeville, Kentucky” underscores “the way forward for the U.S. economy and American society,” Smith says. Unlike neighboring “poor, dying coal-mining” towns, Pikeville has enjoyed “an increasing population and a thriving downtown,” largely because of the University of Pikeville. Smith cautions that US leaders are seemingly “determined to make life much harder for the country’s universities” through their tax reform plan. The estimated $65 billion in cuts over the next decade would, Smith says, “force universities to cut costs and tighten their belts” and “crush the nation’s Pikevilles.” While “Ivy League universities and big flagship state schools would survive,” Smith warns, “many smaller colleges in more vulnerable regions would be devastated.”

Manning: Progress Ongoing On Student-Loan Borrowers’ Claims Of Fraud.

The Chronicle of Higher Education Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (11/14) reports that student-loan borrowers “awaiting action on nearly 100,000 claims that because their colleges defrauded them” may soon “have their loans discharged.” Acting Under Secretary of Education James Manning said Tuesday that progress toward “the claims process, known as ‘borrower defense-to-repayment,’” is underway. Manning said about 95,000 applications for debt relief are currently pending, with about 65,000 inherited from former President Obama’s Administration. A majority of the claims were also filed by former students of the now-defunct Corinthian Colleges. The article says that lawmakers and borrower advocates “have expressed concern in recent weeks after reports revealed that the department was considering partly forgiving loans of defrauded students instead of erasing their debts completely.” On Tuesday, Democratic lawmakers sent a letter to Education Secretary Betsy DeVos “and A. Wayne Johnson, chief operating officer of the department’s Federal Student Aid office, seeking more information about the plan.”

Upcoming Safe Zone Online Workshops

In the coming weeks, ASEE is offering two more free Safe Zone online workshops to help faculty, students, and staff build the knowledge and skills to create a more inclusive environment for LGBTQ individuals in STEM. Tune in Nov. 21 at 2 PM, ET to learn more about discrimination and bias. Tune in Dec. 5 at 2 PM, ET to explore engineering culture and how to organize support for LGBTQ students and colleagues. Learn more and register here.


Research and Development

Texas A&M Researchers Working On Surfing Robot To Study Hurricane Impact.

The Corpus Christi (TX) Business News Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (11/14) reports that in the wake of Hurricane Harvey, “research foundations began dumping money on universities to study the impact of all that water on the Gulf of Mexico, including funds for a surfing robot.” The piece reports that the National Science Foundation gave Texas A&M University-Corpus Christie $382,742 “for two studies of bays and lagoons in the Coastal Bend, while the University of Texas Marine Science Institute received a similar amount to study the impact on seagrass and the biogeochemistry of local bays. TAMU has also partnered with Liquid Robotics to create a smart surfboard deployed to test the effects of freshwater on the Flower Garden Banks coral reef.”

US Air Force Research Lab Issues Contract For Next-Generation Weapons Systems.

The Military Embedded Systems Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (11/14) reports the US Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) Munitions Directorate has awarded MacAulay-Brown a contract to “provide research and development for the Kinetic Kill Hardware-in-the-Loop (KHILS) Simulation Technology for Advanced Research (KSTAR) program, which was established to help the government assess concepts for high-end, next-generation weapon systems.” MacAulay-Brown is partnering with Engility Corporation on the contract, and will “develop multispectral and other advanced modeling capabilities, radar signal processing, integrated projector and scene generation technologies, and R&D of virtual simulation environments. In addition, senior engineers from MacB will provide the necessary requirements and design support for concept seeker hardware and play a major role in performing seeker phenomenology research and evaluation.”

Researchers Develop New 3D-Printing Technique Using UV Light To Create Working Electronic Circuits.

Digital Trends Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (11/14, Dormehl) that researchers at the University of Nottingham in the UK have developed a new technique for 3D-printing that “involves printing circuits made of electrically conductive metallic inks and insulating polymeric inks” in “a single inkjet printing process, using an ultraviolet light to solidify the inks.” Digital Trends states that “this solidification process takes less than one minute per layer, which is far quicker than other approaches that made it impractical to consider printing objects with hundreds of different layers.” Digital Trends says the technique additionally “allows for the printing of multiple materials in one object.” The research was recently published in the journal Advanced Materials Technologies.

Opinion: Autonomous Technology Concerns Some Smart People.

In an column for Car Complaints Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (11/14), David Wood states that as “the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), automakers and other companies are working together to get fully computerized driverless cars on the roads,” some smart people have become worried. Wood states that the “NHTSA wants computers to take control of cars in the quest for less highway fatalities.” University of Cambridge Centre for Theoretical Cosmology Director of Research Stephen Hawking told technical conference attendees in Portugal that humans need to find ways of controlling computers instead of the computers controlling humans. Wood also states that, “according to physicist Stephen Hawking, computers have the potential to rule humanity and eventually destroy civilization as we know it, all because computers decide to ignore their ‘masters’ and turn the tables.”

Colorado DOT To Partner With Arrivo On Test Track.

The Denver Post Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (11/14, Chuang) reports that Arrivo “will partner with the Colorado Department of Transportation to build the half-mile track alongside the E-470 tollway near Denver International Airport, and open a research and development center in Commerce City.” The track will be testing a futuristic transpiration system that could potentially move riders from Denver to Boulder, Colorado in eight minutes. The Denver Post states that “For decades, advanced ‘people movers’ in the United States have been nearly impossible to get necessary approvals.”

Industry News

Google Rolls Out Multi-Region Support For Cloud Spanner Database.

Venture Beat Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (11/14, Frank) reports Google rolled out an update Tuesday to its Cloud Spanner database service “allow its customers to distribute their databases across multiple of the company’s cloud regions, living up to the promise that it set forth when it released the product earlier this year.” Venture Beat explains that “customers will benefit from distributing their workloads both because of the fault tolerance that the capability provides and because of the reduced latency for serving information from the database to customers.” The new feature will enable “companies to globally distribute data without having to worry about some of the headaches that usually come with that, like working to maintain consistent copies of the data across multiple regions,” and represents “a key step to help Google compete in the cloud market, as it takes on companies with larger market share like Microsoft and Amazon Web Services.”

TechCrunch Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (11/14, Miller) reports Cloud Spanner “also got an updated Service Level Agreement (SLA) that should please customers” by stating that “Cloud Spanner databases will have 99.999% (five nines) availability, a level of downtime that translates into less than five minutes per year, according to Cloud Spanner product manager, Deepti Srivastava.” Srivastava added, “We have engineered the system to be highly available and efficient and we expect service to be able to provide that.”

Chemical Companies Embrace 3-D Printing.

Chemical & Engineering News Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (11/14, Tullo) reports that Arkema, DSM, Lubrizol, Perstorp, and other “polymer companies” are “deepening their commitment to three-dimensional printing” as they are “betting that increasing the number of materials available for the technology will help it take off in manufacturing.”

Tesla To Unveil All-Electric Commercial Truck This Week.

Trucker Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (11/14) reports that Tesla will unveil its all-electric commercial truck on Thursday. The truck is expected to have autonomous capabilities. According to a note from Morgan Stanley analysts Ravi Shanker and Adam Jonas, Tesla has been working with trucking companies and shippers on the truck’s design, including Schneider National, XPO, and FedEx. The analysts also “said in order to compete with typical long-haul, diesel-fueled trucks, Tesla may have to come up with new charging solutions.” The analysts predict the truck may include battery swapping or rapid supercharging solutions.

The Los Angeles Times Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (11/14, Mitchell) reports that Tesla “will enter the semi truck business with an array of competitors already hard at work,” including Toyota, Daimler, Kenworth, Volvo, among others. The article mentions that Mitsubishi Fuso is already selling medium-duty electric trucks with UPS as its first commercial customer.

Engineering and Public Policy

Aerospace Industries Association Chief Touts CTE Bill.

In commentary in the Orlando (FL) Sentinel Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (11/14), Lt. Gen. David F. Melcher (U.S. Army, retired), president and CEO of the Aerospace Industries Association, writes about the importance that US technological dominance plays in US national security and economic prosperity. Melcher writes that while it is vital to focus on STEM education to foster a capable tech workforce, “our industry must do more to develop a work force that mirrors the diversity of our country” and “do a better job of training noncollege-bound students for good aerospace and defense manufacturing jobs with expanded career and technical education training and community-college partnership programs.” Melcher writes that “the Senate can help advance progress on work-force issues by” passing the Strengthening Career and Technical Education for the 21st Century Act.

Digital Infrastructure Expert Panel Discusses Smart Cities.

Government Computer News Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (11/14, Leonard) reports on a panel discussion held by The Hill for experts in Digitizing Infrastructure. American Society of Civil Engineers Managing Director for Government Relations and Infrastructure Initiatives Brian Pallasch “said the federal government must be a better partner for state and local governments on the smart technology issue.” Government Computer News states that “the Department of Transportation’s 2016 Smart City Challenge fueled the momentum for cites that aimed to integrate innovative technologies – self-driving cars, connected vehicles and smart sensors – into their infrastructure.” The panel discussed topics such as broadband Internet, public-private partnerships, research, and data sharing.

California Roads Could See Autonomous Vehicles In 2018.

The Los Angeles Times Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (11/14, Dillon) reports that “Californians should expect to see driverless cars tested on the state’s roads early next year.” In the fall, the US House of Representatives passed legislation to expand federal autonomous vehicle authority and “the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration released guidelines for state and local government regulators, also pointing to a more robust federal role.” The state has given 43 companies that include Apple, Waymo, Uber, and General Motors approval to test the vehicles “under the state’s rules that require a driver to be able to take control of the car at all times.”

Elementary/Secondary Education

Rice University Study Examines Relationship Between Faith, STEM Education.

The Houston Chronicle Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (11/14, Rhor) reports Rice University doctoral student Daniel Bolger and Rice University Herbert S. Autrey Chair in Social Sciences and Religion and Public Life Program founding director Elaine Howard Ecklund conducted a study that “looked at the relationship between STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) education and religious faith.” The researchers “focused on the perspective of blacks and Latinos, groups that are underrepresented in the STEM field,” and found 43 percent of the 14 Latinos interviewed “believe that science education – and more specifically, science teachers – could have a negative impact on the religious faith of their children.” Only eight percent of the 26 African-Americans shared those concerns. Furthermore, “19 percent of African-Americans interviewed said science education could have a positive impact, compared with 14 percent of Latinos.” The “researchers hope the findings will spur a larger discussion about the link between religious beliefs and underrepresentation in STEM.”

New Jersey Airport Operator Pushes STEM Education Through Aviation.

Louisiana Department of Education assistant superintendent Dave Lefkowith, in a piece for NJ News Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (11/14), says Alexandria Field (N85) airport co-owner and operator Linda Caster “is proving that airports don’t have to be used only in their traditional role for transportation, or learning to fly for pleasure or an airline career.” For Castner, an airport’s value is both economic and social, and while the aviation community, politicians, and businesses typically focus on that economic value, “Castner states ‘airports can have social impact, too – to bring about positive change that addresses the pressing social challenge of improved Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math education.’” Her motto, “STEM Through the Lens of Aviation,” has driven “various airport outreach programs she has developed over the years: ‘Cleared for Take-Off’ summer camps, the N85 Aerospace Club, and ‘Living Lab’ programs for local schools are just a few.”

Iowa School Districts Receive STEM Grants.

The Iowa City (IA) Press-Citizen Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (11/14) reports the Iowa City Community School District and 18 other schools and districts in the state were “awarded a $25,000 STEM BEST grant from the Governor’s STEM Advisory Council to support the district’s science, technology, engineering, math education plans.” ICCSD’s overall focus “is to create a system where all students graduate with 21st-century skill sets, according to district officials.” To achieve that goal, a “committee of teachers, administrators and local business leaders will head efforts of the project to rethink STEM education, develop specific educational strategies and define needed recommendations.” Last week, district educators and University of Iowa representatives “met with business leaders to discuss the district’s plans for the grant and accelerating STEM education” and “discussed creating pathways and courses for students that will connect them to careers and opportunities in STEM fields.”

Tuesday’s Lead Stories

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